2016-17 NBA Power Rankings: How Each Team Stacks Up After 3 Weeks of Action
Another week brings another move up the rankings for Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers.
And if you remember where they checked in last time around, you're aware there weren't many more rungs on the ladder to climb. Despite a grimy, testy loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and all, the Clips are separating themselves from the pack. In fact, the Clippers have been so impressive that even losing to them can raise a team's standing.
Just ask the Grizzlies, who've split the season series with the Clips so far.
On the negative side, things aren't going great for the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Oklahoma City Thunder had themselves a rough stretch as well. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves sliding because all this coasting isn't producing much in the way of encouraging metrics.
As always, these rankings are measures of each team's current strength. Records, head-to-head meetings, advanced stats and injuries all play roles in the order.
30. New Orleans Pelicans
↓ 1 Spot
Jrue Holiday, due back Friday, couldn't have picked a better time to return.
The New Orleans Pelicans are better than the Philadelphia 76ers as long as Anthony Davis is in top form, but a quad bruise sustained during Monday's win over the Boston Celtics cost Davis a game against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday—one the Pelicans lost.
Holiday and Davis played 1,128 minutes together last season, posting a net rating of minus-0.9 points per 100 possessions. Nothing spectacular, right?
But don't you think the Pels, sporting an overall net rating of minus-6.8 so far, would take that figure (and the emotional boost of seeing their two best players on the court together) in a heartbeat?
New Orleans is outflanked every night, and a diminished or altogether unavailable AD makes that disadvantage exponentially greater. If he's not too badly hobbled and Holiday works his way back into a substantial role, the Pelicans won't stick here for long.
29. Washington Wizards
↓ 1 Spot
Last week, a dejected Marcin Gortat told Candace Buckner of the Washington Post: "I think we've got one of the worst benches in the league right now."
After a 109-102 loss to the Sixers on Wednesday, I wonder what Gortat thinks about a team now facing, as Buckner put it, "the sobering realization that there is no such thing as an easy opponent for them."
Yeah, things are that bad for the Washington Wizards, who have seen Bradley Beal miss time with a hamstring ailment and who still don't get consistent minutes from the only guy, John Wall, capable of making them respectable.
It's not Wall's fault, either: He's still on a minutes restriction following offseason knee surgeries.
Beating the New York Knicks on Thursday was an absolute, desperation-fueled must. It showed that maybe somewhere at the core of the 3-8 Wizards, the tiny spark of hope hasn't fizzled out.
But, man, is that a dim little light.
It's still early, but (whispering) is it maybe time to revisit the once universally accepted idea that Scott Brooks might not be such a great coach without a handful of in-prime superstars turning pickup basketball into 50-win seasons?
28. Philadelphia 76ers
↑ 2 Spots
The 76ers earned a pair of wins this week, and because that's not likely to happen again for a long time (at least until Ben Simmons returns from a foot injury and Joel Embiid gets out from under these maddening minute restrictions), we're throwing Philly a bone.
Out of the basement, y'all!
So while the 22-year-old's brilliant flashes are often accompanied by ghastly turnovers and tunnel vision, one thing is already clear: Embiid's overwhelming physicality puts opponents in compromising positions, leaving them no choice but to foul.
That sort of thing makes offensive efficiency inevitable.
And that's right now. Imagine the bind he'll put defenders in when he develops greater comfort and adds a few nuanced tricks. For a franchise so committed to the future, it's nice to see a positive in the present.
But seriously, quit posting two-win weeks, Sixers. You still need another crack at the top of the lottery.
27. Phoenix Suns
←→ No Movement
Three straight losses while surrendering at least 120 points in each?
Teenage rookies starting?
Ejected players signing autographs?
Sounds like a team that's about five years away from playing non-embarrassing basketball. And yes, that's a low bar—one that probably comes off as a little bit insulting. But when you scan this roster, all you see are guys working to prove they can win and developing talents not so far removed from high school.
Even in a best-case scenario, nobody thinks this group is ticketed for greatness. That's ridiculous...sorry, what's that, Earl Watson?
Five years is a long time, and we live in a world where the impossible sometimes becomes reality.
But, no, sir. No we will not.
26. Orlando Magic
←→ No Movement
The Orlando Magic went 2-2 last week and beat the Thunder on what must have been a satisfying game-winner from Serge Ibaka.
And they still landed on Roundup Probation.
That's because the Magic are among the league's most painful watches. They scored 74 points in a loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday, then managed just 69 in defeat against the Indiana Pacers on Monday.
The offensive anemia is made worse by the obviousness of the solution: shrinking the lineup and starting Aaron Gordon at power forward. Does that mean Ibaka plays center while Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo settle for second- and third-string minutes behind him? Could it compromise an already rickety defense? Might it also alienate two of Orlando's highest-paid players?
Sure, but speaking from the perspective of a selfish observer who can't take any more of this mess, it's worth the risk. Head coach Frank Vogel has not only resisted tinkering with that fix, but he's also doubled down in the wrong direction, starting Jeff Green over Gordon at the 3.
Green, for what it's worth, went 0-of-9 and failed to score in Orlando's Wednesday win over the Anthony Davis-less Pelicans.
25. Miami Heat
↓ 4 Spots
Though unquestionably among the league's best defensive teams, the Miami Heat keep losing rankings ground because they have no shooting at the positions traditionally associated with perimeter accuracy.
Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow have been heaving up bricks at alarming rates—among wings who've taken at least 100 shots, they rank dead last and second-to-last in effective field-goal percentage.
Thus, it's no mystery why the Heat are among the five worst offensive teams in the NBA.
Miami is hopeful that at least one of its wayward chuckers will find the mark, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald: "In Winslow’s case, Heat officials aren’t overly concerned, because they believe his wrist injury has contributed to his offensive issues. They remain confident his technique, which was adjusted by new shooting coach Rob Fodor, is sound and that he eventually will be a much better shooter than he has demonstrated."
Waiters is a bit of a different study. He's hitting a respectable percentage of his threes (.308) but can't finish in traffic. It's never a good sign when a player whose game depends on attacking the basket can't even finish 40 percent of his point-blank chances...but that's exactly what's happening.
Miami has a sound defensive base, but it won't matter until shots start dropping.
24. Dallas Mavericks
↓ 1 Spot
You need not be convinced Harrison Barnes can keep scorching in isolation and drilling contested mid-range shots.
But you have to be impressed by his evolving character.
A guy who spent his four years in Golden State overthinking and stifling his considerable talent by hesitating is letting it rip after a tough summer. He explained his revamped mindset to Michael Lee of The Vertical:
That was the most motivation I've ever had playing basketball. Between losing in the Finals, how free agency worked out, leaving that team, the motivation behind all of that, and then in turn, going to [Team] USA and not playing—it just motivated me this season to just come out and just be aggressive. There are a lot of emotions that go into that summer. Some of it, I still haven’t sat down and processed, because some of it is just painful. But it’s definitely stoked a fire in me to just play.
Barnes will have to stay hot for Dallas (0-2 this week) to avoid continued decline. Deron Williams played just 10 minutes Wednesday before the calf injury that cost him the previous four games flared up again, and Dirk Nowitzki can't run. J.J. Barea is also now out with a calf strain.
23. Brooklyn Nets
↑ 2 Spots
A rough week on the road notwithstanding (1-2 since we last ranked with back-to-back losses against the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers), things have gone better for the Brooklyn Nets than anyone could have expected.
So in the interest of preserving culture and chemistry, trading Brook Lopez probably has less appeal to this franchise than it has in a while, which is a shame because Lopez's new three-point stroke transforms his game and, more importantly, ratchets up his value.
Incredibly, 35.5 percent of Lopez's shots this season have come from beyond the arc. His previous career high was 1.2 percent. Framed another way, 49 of Lopez's 80 career attempts from deep have come this season. That's an absurd increase, one made more ridiculous by the accompanying efficiency: Lopez is hitting 32.7 percent of them.
Best of all, he's not going soft and avoiding work inside. Instead, he's just stepping back a bit and excising long two-pointers from his game—a move every efficiency buff can get behind. The result is a post-up beast who now forces opponents to chase him out to the arc.
This new dimension is one teams covet in bigs, and if the Nets were inclined to move Lopez, his reformed game would make him hugely attractive to pace-and-space suitors who wouldn't have looked twice last year. Whether the Nets move Lopez or not, he's been a huge reason they've played more like a midpack team than a bottom-feeder.
22. New York Knicks
↑ 2 Spots
The holy age of Kristaps Porzingis is upon us.
May it be blessed.
KP saw time as a first-unit center after halftime against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, and he unleashed the full force of his offensive gifts against a frustrated Andrew Bogut. The next game resulted in a second straight win for the Knicks (this time against the Detroit Pistons).
Porzingis' career-high 35 points had everything to do with the result.
"It's kind of crazy," Derrick Rose told Ian Begley of ESPN.com. "He's going out here scoring 30, and he really don't know the NBA yet. That's scary."
I'm not sure Porzingis is quite as ignorant as Rose's intended compliment suggests. If the Knicks know anything about the NBA (a dubious proposition), they'd better get their explosive 21-year-old as many minutes at the 5 as possible.
It won't do anything to help their horrendous defense, but why not lean into an offensive identity and try to outscore everyone with a slick 7'3" guard playing center?
21. Sacramento Kings
↓ 2 Spots
Chaos and dissatisfaction, familiar foes of the Sacramento Kings, are marshaling forces on the horizon.
Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported trade chatter involving DeMarcus Cousins is back, ESPN's Marc Stein reported Willie Cauley-Stein could be on the market and Omri Casspi isn't wild about his disappearing role, per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee: "Dave [Joerger] is a new coach here, and I don’t think I was high on his list from the get-go. That’s pretty obvious."
All this in the midst of a brutal schedule stretch that makes rumor-silencing wins hard to come by: Sacramento played just twice this past week but lost both games.
Suffice it to say, the timing is not ideal. The good news: Rudy Gay has been one of the best post-up players in the league, averaging the most points per possession (1.33) among guys who've scored at least 20 points in the post.
Of course, he made clear his intentions to get out of Sacramento before the season even started, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. So maybe we should just move on.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves
↑ 2 Spots
Wait, wasn't Tom Thibodeau supposed to be a defensive coach? And weren't we supposed to worry he'd focus on that end to the detriment of offensive innovation?
So much for that.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have yet to reach their defensive potential under Thibs, but they're pushing toward the top of the league in offense—and they're doing it with the most progressive, contemporary scoring approach possible.
They're shooting and making a ton of treys, leading the NBA in three-point percentage (40.1 percent).
Through their first 10 games, the Wolves hit at least 12 triples five times. According to Timberwolves PR, the franchise record for such games is six, set in 2011-12. Safe to say that mark is toast.
Andrew Wiggins continues to lead the surprising charge, topping the league in long-distance accuracy (.523) and setting a pace that should break his previous season high for made threes (57) before the year's midway point.
It's taken a while for Minnesota to find itself, and a trend of terrible third quarters means there's still work to be done. But of all the teams ranked so far, the Wolves have the greatest potential to keep rising.
19. Denver Nuggets
↓ 3 Spots
There's nothing like a four-game slide, which the Denver Nuggets endured from Nov. 8 to 13, to make you want a few of those earlier nail-biting losses back.
With the frontcourt rotation in continuing flux—Nikola Jokic has been coming off the bench since Nov. 12—and ill-timed injuries discombobulating the guard spots, Denver hasn't found stable footing yet.
Gary Harris missed the start of the season with a groin injury and may now miss a month with a bad foot.
"I feel so bad for him," Nuggets head coach Mike Malone told Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post. "He misses basically the whole preseason, comes back and gets hurt again. … I’m not sure what the exact injury is, but I know that he's going to be out for a little bit of time."
There's no time for self-pity with a five-game stretch against winning teams starting Friday.
Wilson Chandler exploded off the bench with 28 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in a 120-104 skid-snapping win against Phoenix on Wednesday. Perhaps his versatility will be the key to surviving without Harris.
18. Milwaukee Bucks
←→ No Movement
If Jabari Parker is going to keep shooting roughly five times as many threes as he did last year while also churning out open-court forays like this one, we'll have to reapportion some of the hype we usually lavish on Giannis Antetokounmpo.
And though it's not as exhilarating as watching the Milwaukee Bucks' forward tandem grow into stars, there's still something to be said for Greg Monroe quietly finding a steady role in an otherwise volatile big-man rotation.
Here's Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Jason Kidd has juggled his center rotation already and candidly admitted he likely will do it again as the season moves along. So far the only player in the three-piece puzzle that has kept his role is Greg Monroe, who remains the first big man off the bench. He also has been the most productive of the trio."
The Bucks didn't have the greatest week, but they beat the Grizzlies and played the Atlanta Hawks tough in a road loss. That's enough to keep that awful loss against the Heat from hurting too badly.
17. Indiana Pacers
↑ 3 Spots
Little about the Indiana Pacers' wins over the Magic and Cavaliers this past week rates as impressive: Orlando is scoring at a peach basket-era rate, and the Cavs didn't have LeBron James.
When you couple those uninspiring victories with a Nov. 11 overtime loss to the 76ers, you've got a Pacers team with what might be the sketchiest .500 record you'll ever see.
Indiana might be figuring out how to defend after a brutal start on that end of the floor, but using these recent results as evidence is dubious.
We all know that sparkling 94.3 defensive rating since Nov. 11 is polished by a weak schedule. Indy rose because other clubs ahead of it stumbled, and it'll have to do more against quality, full-strength competition before we get too excited.
16. Detroit Pistons
↓ 1 Spot
The benefits of playing two combo forwards alongside rebound-inhaler Andre Drummond are clear: Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris give the Detroit Pistons spacing and versatility, particularly with Harris posting the most efficient shooting numbers of his career.
But it seems there's a cost: Detroit is having trouble rebounding the ball.
At 48.8 percent, the Pistons' rebound percentage ranks 20th in the league. That figure hardly computes with Drummond's individual glass-cleaning prowess, and it's especially odd in light of last year's 52.1 percent board rate, which ranked second in the NBA.
"It was terrible," Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters after his team gave up 19 offensive boards in a 105-102 loss to the Knicks on Wednesday. "As I said to the [team] afterward, we’ll be able to go in and look at 10 or 12 plays tomorrow that were just lack-of-effort plays, lack-of-focus plays. You can’t afford that on the road and we continue to do that."
The rebounding issues are troubling. But the presence of Drummond, Van Gundy's ire and the board work last season all point to improvement—even with Harris and Morris remaining first-unit fixtures.
Detroit hangs near the middle of the pack, but there's reason for optimism.
15. Portland Trail Blazers
↓ 4 Spots
The closest thing to a bona fide quality win on the Portland Trail Blazers' resume might be from all the way back on opening night, when they beat the Utah Jazz, 113-104.
Other than that, it's been mostly a taking-care-of-business kind of season.
Portland beats who it's supposed to and loses against serious competition: the Clippers twice, the Warriors...even the Chicago Bulls. The Blazers should have handled the Houston Rockets on Thursday, as James Harden and friends were playing the second game of a back-to-back.
No such luck, as Harden incinerated Portland with 26 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds in a 17-point win.
Al-Farouq Aminu, out with a calf strain, was sorely missed—and will continue to be in the weeks he'll spend recovering.
At 7-6, there's no cause for concern yet. But we can't do much for the Blazers without a better strength of schedule, and we should probably also plan on some eventual slippage if this trend of losing to top-flight teams continues.
But hey, here's a cool thing: Nobody pushes the ball more quickly off defensive rebounds than the Blazers. According to Inpredictable, Portland's possessions last just 10.8 seconds after corralling an opponent's miss.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder
↓ 5 Spots
Regression came quickly for the Thunder, who endured a four-game losing streak before narrowly knocking off the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. Ill-equipped to survive offensively without Russell Westbrook doing everything, OKC also saw its defensive integrity fracture.
Scoring remains the larger concern, though, and one possible fix would be trusting Enes Kanter for longer chunks of the game. Surprisingly, the interior scoring stud is playing fewer minutes per contest than he did a year ago. And it's not a productivity thing; Kanter is scoring at the highest per-minute rate of his career.
You would have thought that excising Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka meant there was a premium on proven bucket collectors in the frontcourt.
Kanter compromises a defense, we know that. But OKC isn't in a position to minimize flawed personnel who could offer a boost in scoring.
13. Boston Celtics
↑ 1 Spot
Nobody's going to brag about taking three of four games against a lineup of the Knicks, Pacers, Pelicans and Mavs, but the Boston Celtics have done enough to survive at far less than full strength.
Al Horford's concussion symptoms have kept him out of action since Oct. 29, and Jae Crowder has missed seven straight (through Thursday) with a sprained ankle. Fortunately, after a major slide last week, the short-handed Celtics have stabilized behind Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley.
The former is sparking fourth-quarter scoring runs to ice games—Thomas pumped in 22 points in the closing period to beat the Mavs on Wednesday. And the latter is knocking down triples and defending while rebounding in a way no 6'2" guard should.
Bradley is all the way up to 8.7 boards per contest.
"I wouldn't bet any (backcourt) against us," Thomas told Jay King of MassLive.com. "We're not backing down from nobody. I wouldn't say we're No. 1. I wouldn't say we're behind anybody. We're up there and we're in the conversation. I'd put us up there with anybody in the NBA."
Hard to argue. And easy to get excited about what this team will do when healthy.
12. Memphis Grizzlies
↑ 5 Spots
Road wins against the Jazz and Clippers—the latter defined by vintage, hardscrabble chippiness—give the Grizzlies a boost, but Marc Gasol's flappy-armed celebratory homage to Conor McGregor (which the UFC champ lifted from WWE head honcho Vince McMahon) is what really causes this week's rankings spike.
Memphis is playing its best ball of the year, Chandler Parsons is easing back into a role and if you just wipe away that 36-point loss the Grizzlies gave away to the Wolves by sitting everyone on Nov. 1, the advanced metrics suddenly look a whole lot better.
Remember, too, that Memphis tends to outperform its net rating and margin of victory. Historically, the Grizzlies are just one of those teams that wins close games. For example, they posted the sixth-best clutch net rating in the league last year, which stood out starkly against their No. 22 overall figure.
Far from perfect but blessed with close-game know-how and sweet celebrations, the Grizzlies are big gainers.
11. Los Angeles Lakers
↑ 1 Spot
Yes, the schedule has been soft since those terrific back-to-back wins against the Hawks and Golden State Warriors in early November, but do you know what decent teams do against soft schedules?
The Lakers went 2-1 this past week (and are 4-2 since beating the Warriors), winning at New Orleans and at home against the Nets. Head coach Luke Walton has the offense humming, ranking comfortably in the top 10 with 107.1 points per 100 possessions, and the defense...well, the defense isn't good (105.4 points allowed per 100 possessions). But there are signs of promise everywhere.
Julius Randle, for example, has been a revelation He put up 17 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in 31 minutes against Brooklyn, becoming the only Laker besides Magic Johnson to post a triple-double before his 22nd birthday.
After looking somewhat lost and shooting with alarming inefficiency last season, Randle has been one of the Lakers' best players.
We'll see how he and his team hold up with dates against the San Antonio Spurs, Bulls, Thunder and Warriors (twice) in the next 10 days.
10. Houston Rockets
←→ No Movement
So...Patrick Beverley for MVP?
On Thursday, Houston's point guard hit the floor for the first time this year, and his return coincided with a blowout victory over the Blazers on the second night of a back-to-back set.
James Harden's triple-double had something to do with the outcome, of course, but Beverley's presence does a handful of positive things for the Rockets. Getting Eric Gordon back to a sixth-man role while not putting Corey Brewer in the first unit is just one example.
And even if his reputation is a bit overblown (menacing on-ball intensity tends to get noticed more than exploitable off-ball mistakes), Beverley will help the defense.
If he can do anything to prop up the Rockets when Harden sits—still the team's greatest vulnerability—he still won't win MVP. But Beverley will deserve at least a steak dinner.
9. Utah Jazz
↓ 1 Spot
Derrick Favors hasn't looked right all season, and his production hasn't been this underwhelming (10.5 points per game on 46.9 percent shooting) since 2012-13, his age-21 season. At least we know why: An MRI revealed a bone contusion in his left knee, according to the Jazz, and he'll be sidelined for as long as this latest ding takes to heal.
Add him to the list of key Jazz rotation pieces who have either faced or are facing health issues. Gordon Hayward broke his finger in the preseason, George Hill has missed time with a sprained thumb and Alec Burks' latest ankle surgery feels like a third round of deja vu.
Clearly, the Jazz are being karmically repaid for some cosmic affront.
Nobody's this unlucky.
Utah, 7-6, has kept its head above water through the injuries, and we can keep hoping for a glimpse of this team at full strength. But in terms of present potency, the Jazz just aren't the same with Favors in this condition.
8. Chicago Bulls
↑ 5 Spots
Jimmy Butler doesn't make commitments idly.
"It's going to have to be me to lead the charge when it comes to coming out with the right energy, making sure we're doing everything we're supposed to do at both ends," Butler said after a devastating Nov. 5 loss to the Pacers, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. "I'm definitely capable of doing that."
Since then, Butler has averaged 27.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists while getting to the foul line a healthy 10 times per game. The Bulls are 5-1 in that stretch.
Not everybody has summoned the same resolve.
The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor brought the ether for Rajon Rondo's defensive effort:
It’s so early and statistics are especially fuzzy, so it’s difficult to make declarative statements. But effort isn’t a number, and it’s especially troubling that these “giving up” plays are happening only 10 games into the season. Rondo defends like he thinks he’s still a superstar on offense, when in fact he’s a borderline-replacement-level starter.
With Chicago in the midst of its annual circus trip, it looks like it'll be up to Butler to keep this thing rolling.
7. Charlotte Hornets
↓ 1 Spot
Single-digit losses to the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers helped organize the hierarchy atop the East. While the Charlotte Hornets continue to take pristine care of the ball and waste the lowest percentage of their offensive plays on isolation sets—both laudable characteristics—those defeats suggest it may take a while before they climb this high again.
Fortunately, head coach Steve Clifford prevented an 0-3 week by lighting a fire in his team at halftime against the Timberwolves on Tuesday.
"Several Hornets indicated Clifford balled them out in vivid language," Rick Bonnell wrote in the Charlotte Observer. "It did the trick. The Hornets outscored the Timberwolves by 19 points in the second half, shooting 66 percent from the field, for a 115-108 victory at Target Center."
Even after a 1-3 week, Charlotte is only a couple of decimal points on the scoring side from having top-10 ratings on both offense and defense—a distinction that marks it as one of the league's best teams, even if it's not quite on par with the true upper tier.
6. Toronto Raptors
↑ 1 Spot
Shoutout to Tim Cato of SB Nation for raising the issue of DeMar DeRozan's true outlier status. The league's leading scorer is getting his points in ways no other player does, and his shunning of efficiency trends only gets more extreme when you tinker with the numbers.
And he does it in 36.9 minutes per contest.
Let's just pretend overtime doesn't exist and assume all teams play 48 minutes per game. If, for the purposes of further clarifying this incredible comparison, we pretend DeRozan gets those same 48 minutes, now he's taking 9.5 shots per game from 15 feet to 19 feet. That's more than the Nets, Rockets, Grizzlies, Bucks, Nuggets and Celtics.
The word "unsustainable" should be leaping off the screen here. Nobody can keep scoring volume and efficiency like DeRozan with that shot profile. And with the Raps falling to the Cavs and Warriors in a tough back-to-back this week, the regression will come for a Toronto team that already sits a notch below the real elites.
In that way, DeRozan and the Raptors are similar: Both have looked great but will eventually settle into the ranks of the "very good".
5. Atlanta Hawks
←→ No Movement
The Hawks have the NBA's second-best net rating (10.5), and they're still the only team to beat the Cavs at full strength. We're not even a quarter of the way into the season, but facts like that are getting harder to ignore.
His personal numbers look good — he’s averaging 14.8 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, with eight double-doubles in 10 games — but his effect on Atlanta’s overall numbers appear to be even better. The club’s 31.1 percent offensive-rebound percentage with him on the court this season would be tied for the highest in the league, alongside the Chicago Bulls. The team’s offensive-rebound rate falls to a below-league average rate of 22.2 percent when Howard is on the sideline.
In fairness, the Hawks have fattened up on the fourth-easiest schedule in the league, according to Basketball-Reference.com. With that in mind, we shouldn't necessarily expect them to occupy space above the Raptors and Hornets forever.
But to this point, Atlanta has earned its top-five spot.
4. San Antonio Spurs
←→ No Movement
The San Antonio Spurs won all four of their games this week, and Tony Parker began his assault on the narrative of his washed-ness.
Parker will never be the team's leading scorer, and at 34, his days of Finals MVP takeovers are done. But he posted a plus-30 in a win against the Kings, and he's reached double-digit points while playing approximately 26 minutes per game during his last three contests.
Best of all, he doesn't care if his solid stretches don't quiet calls for Patty Mills to supplant him in the starting lineup, telling Bleacher Report's Mike Monroe:
Sometimes people wonder, 'Oh, you were the man…' But for me, it doesn't matter. Just like Timmy [Duncan], just like 5-0 [David Robinson], just like Manu—that's the mentality. For me, it's very easy to understand that now it's Kawhi [Leonard] and LaMarcus [Aldridge], and I'm fine with it. And I will just try to do my best to pick my spots and be aggressive.
The gradual statistical decline and "here one day, gone the next" athletic burst somehow matter less with a mentality like this. It's pure Spurs, of course, this total subjugation of ego, and it's still true that Parker's performance will ultimately mean more than his acceptance of a changing role.
But when you read things like that, it just re-emphasizes why we shouldn't ever worry about San Antonio slipping. The Spurs just don't care about the trivial stuff.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
↓ 2 Spots
I'll admit it: This is rough treatment for the Cavaliers.
Their loss to the Pacers on Wednesday doesn't really count because James was resting, and they're still tied for the top record in the East anyway.
But Cleveland is only eighth in net rating, and if these rankings are meant to catalogue how well each team is playing right now, you have to penalize the coasting Cavs a bit for their relatively uninspiring numbers.
There aren't any systemic issues to worry about. Mike Dunleavy has shot poorly (34.1 percent from the field), and J.R. Smith has lost the ability to score inside the arc so far, but alarms aren't sounding in November.
The wins are still rolling in, and while there's an idea that margin of victory says more about quality than a team's record, it doesn't apply in the same way to a defending champion that's relaxing until the games matter. But it's not fair to the teams bashing opponents by consistently big margins if we just keep celebrating a Cavs team that hasn't found the urgency to play its best yet.
Crank it up, Cleveland, and you'll be back where you belong.
2. Golden State Warriors
↑ 1 Spot
Last year's league-best offense is better, and that makes it a whole lot easier to stomach the bottom-10 defense and nonexistent rim protection in Golden State.
After the Dubs hung 127 points on the Raptors, Chris Haynes of ESPN.com relayed a wild stat: "The Golden State Warriors are the first team in 26 years to tally 30 or more assists and shoot 50 percent [or] higher in five straight games."
More silliness: During those last five games, Stephen Curry is averaging 33.6 points and 57.1 percent shooting from three-point range.
And amid all the scoring, the Warriors still remember how to destroy opponents with the proprietary two-way chaos in the clip above. Never forget: Golden State is a different team without a conventional center. With Andre Iguodala in place of the immobile Zaza Pachulia-shaped chunk of rock that starts games at the 5, the Warriors crush foes by 27 points per 100 possessions.
And they defend with efficiency that would rank sixth overall.
The Warriors are not perfect, yet they're on pace to finish with the highest offensive rating in NBA history and can field lineups with real defensive prowess when they have to.
Time for the climb to start.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
↑ 1 Spot
Publication deadlines prevented this early leader for quote of the year from making the cut last week, but Austin Rivers' reaction to the Clippers bench mob's rating as the second-best defensive unit in the NBA, via Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, cannot be ignored.
"On defense, I didn’t know how we were going to be," Rivers said. "I thought we would maybe struggle. The fact that we’re second in the league right now is (expletive) shocking."
And, as it turns out, perhaps (expletive) unlikely to continue. L.A.'s bench mob has already slipped to seventh in defensive rating among five-man units logging at least 50 total minutes.
It doesn't really matter, though, as the Clippers starting five remains the most effective group in the league, topping the Warriors' revamped Death Lineup by about two points per 100 possessions.
Maybe it's odd to elevate the Clips right after they suffered their second loss of the season, but the Cavs lost, too, and the Warriors are still far from perfect. Plus, the overall numbers so far, including the league's top net rating by a mile, are sufficient justification.
The Clippers at No. 1?
Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated. Accurate through games played Nov. 17.